The relatively hopeful view about what’s been happening in Iraq is that Moqtada al Sadr had overplayed his hand, and that Ali al-Sistani would now be prepared to watch calmly as we wiped out his militia and killed or arrested him, leaving Sistani as the more or less uncontested arbiter of Shia Iraq.
That would still have left us in fairly bad situation compared to the goal of a liberal and democratic Iraq, since Sistani is (1) more theocratic; (2) less liberal (e.g., on women’s rights); and (3) less inclined to accommodate the Sunni and the Kurds than we would like. (And, of course, anti-Israel.)
Still, leaving Sistani more or less in charge might have been a non-horrible outcome: better than Saddam Hussein, better than civil war. And with Ahmed Chalabi, the neocons’ favorite Iraqi, oozing closer and closer to Sistani, the result might have been an Iraq that, whatever its domestic failings, was at least a reliable supporter of U.S. foreign policy. (That’s if you think that Chalabi is honest enough to stay bought, a proposition on which I for one wouldn’t care to bet the rent money.)
Well, as they say in Baghdad-on-the-Hudson, fuhgettabadit. Sistani says “hands off Najaf,” the sacred site where Sadr has gone to ground. And Chalabi is now saying that as long as Sadr is holed up in the holy city, he’s untouchable, and that the murder indictment against him needs to be made to go away somehow so he and his followers can be made a part of the new political system. Yes, the same Moqtada al Sadr the CPA spokesman this week called ” a two-bit thug” and whose followers the President referred to as “gangs.”
Mind you, I’m not saying he isn’t a two-bit thug or that his followers aren’t a “gang;” only that Chalabi, who was supposed to be our trained seal, and Sistani, who holds most of the high cards, won’t back Paul Bremer or the President in saying so and acting accordingly.
Listen to Chalabi, and curse the day we decided to give him the power to help or harm us:
“Najaf must not be touched. This is what we told the coalition. We must seek a peaceful solution. On the other hand we must enforce the law in Iraq.”
“American meetings with the Governing Council have been very realistic and positive in this regard. They are holding their fire. The situation in Najaf has been static for the past 10 days. The Americans realise this is s special case and they must seek a political solution which does not contradict the rule of law.”
Chalabi said the legal case against Sadr must be handled delicately, and he must be integrated into Iraq’s postwar polity, especially since his family is one of the most distinguished scholarly families in the Shi’ite world.
“The Sadr family has strong support. It is the movement of the dispossessed, the people who felt oppressed by Saddam, and their current state of mind is that they have not seen any change in the situation in Iraq to favour them. They have been excluded from the political process.”
Compare Chalabi’s remarks with this Voice of America editorial from yesterday, marked as representing our official policy. That will show you how completely our official policy has lost touch with reality.
Update The Washington Post has more bad news. I wish I were sure that Bush and his friends were lying to the rest of us when they say things are basically going well. The really scary possibility is that they’re telling the truth as they see it.